Astonished of St Albans

Before the General Election obliterated other news, the Guardian ran a page-three feature “JustGiving, but to whom?”, which raised a pertinent question about fundraising. If you give to the major charities you have a pretty good idea where the money is going and how it will be spent, but if you give via a website page say, for individual victims of a headline disaster, how do you know it will go to them and not to a scammer -sending you spluttering indignantly into your cornflakes when you find out?

Recently, JustGiving took over a page set up ostensibly to help Aysha Frede who was a victim of the Westminster terrorist. Donors had noticed that the woman who set it up had the same name as someone convicted of fraud, and the appeal had already raised some £17,000. Another page was apparently set up by fraudsters pretending to raise funds for HHUGS.

Worries have also been generated by a fundraising page set up following the petition, which raised 140,000 signatures, for police officer David Evans who wanted to keep his police dog on retirement. At the time of writing the police have arrested a man now released on bail.

JustGiving points out that with charities the funds go straight to the charity not the person who set up the page, less clear are the personal appeals and the case of very small charities. With its funding cut to the bone the Charity Commission is in a poor position to exercise any stewardship of charities even when it receives complaints. So, we are really in a ‘buyer beware’, or rather ‘donor be on your guard’ situation.

If there is an area that really needs scrutiny, it is less the fundraising process and more the criminal act of fraudulently using fundraising for personal gain. If someone uses say, you know exactly where the funds will go, though you may not know if the person is telling the truth at least you know the risk you are taking; and with $3billion raised for individuals so far, us donors are a pretty trusting bunch, but I expect this is a family and friends game rather than a very generous and rather credulous public.

The Fundraising Regulator is apparently considering if these sites come into their remit, which as companies rather than charities they may not, similarly the Charity Commission may find it hard to police this area; but I would like to be a fly on the wall as they argue which of them should try to tap into this potentially large revenue stream from possible registrations and fines. After all, effective policing costs money as we have seen nationally with an upturn in crime, now replacing falling crime rates, after years of cuts in police funding.

So, let’s not shoot the messenger or the method when things go wrong, and let’s remember that though fraud is always with us, that is no reason to stop giving. Just be wary and kind – there is real need out there.

John Baguley, Chair IFC Group